Mouse rant blog vent mouse.

Wednesday, June 23, 2004

It's not a special right, it's an equal right

A friend of mine lost her boyfriend to a motorcycle accident recently. He was young, probably not even 30 years old. Obviously, they weren't married. However, they had lived together for a long time, and she took care of his finances and all his things were at their shared apartment.
Before he was dead but after the decision was made to take him off life support, his family swooped in like vultures. (Not all family members, but one in particular, yes.) Since she was "just" the girlfriend, they were pushing to make sure that she knew that as far as they were concerned, she had zero rights. She received four, five, or more phone calls a day, even before he had been declared dead and well before a funeral, from relatives making absolutely sure that he had left no money or assets behind that she, "just" the woman he lived with, could have. They made it quite clear that while she was suddenly responsible for half the bills of the household, she had no legal rights to anything that he owned outright. They were wasting their time, as he didn't own much, just the motorcycle which actually had been settled out in a will of sorts.
She had no rights in arranging the funeral arrangements. She was asked for his military uniform for the burial from the funeral home, and she turned them it over, knowing full well that he wouldn't have wished to be buried in uniform.
Considering the treatment she received, it's obvious that if he had left behind any type of assets, she would have had to suffer the indignity of a lawsuit challenging her rights on top of her grief.
These two were not married by choice, so one a certain level, while she was treated most unjustly, it could be argued that was the chance that they took by not marrying. But it made me reflect on how couples who are barred from marriage by law must suffer the same indignities all the time, and they have no recourse to rectify this. A gay couple can call themselves married, present themselves as married, live as married, share everything as a couple for decades and when one of them dies, the other must tolerate being treated with the respect you would treat a one-night stand who just happened to be hanging around if the deceased's family wishes it to be that way.
Let's be realistic. Marriage is not about family or even necessarily about love. It's about respecting our rights, as adults, to define the primary relationships in our lives. It's about society realizing that if someone dies, the person who is affected most profoundly on every level is the person that the deceased shared her life with. It's about acknowledging the basic human need to connect and the ancient practice of doling out social respect to that need.
When the Grumpy Old Fart Punditude claims that marriage is about raising children, on a logical level I laugh. On an emotional level, it makes me wonder about their own experiences with marriage and love. If their wife is merely their child-raising partner, what does that say about the validity of their relationship? Anyway, our society doesn't measure the validity of a marriage by children. My mother and father have no responsibility for each other despite having children together; they are married to other people. No, marriage is who you live with and sleep with, who makes your coffee and knows how you snore, who you can't wait to see at the end of the day to tell all about your day. It's the person who knows what you would want to buried in, not because they asked, but because they live with you.

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